TORONTO — Top travel executives shared their promising outlook for 2021 despite a rocky start to the year during Travelweek’s most recent virtual conference.
Titled ‘Future of Travel: A Brand New Year,’ the online event took place yesterday, Feb. 3 as the third installment of Travelweek’s industry-leading ‘Future of Travel’ conference series. It follows two hugely successful conferences in 2020: ‘The Future of Travel: Back to Business?’ in June, and ‘The Future of Travel: Caribbean Comeback’ in September.
Thousands of travel advisors tuned in to yesterday’s conference, which was broadcast live on the webcast as well as on Facebook Live via the platforms of Travelweek and its French sister publication, Profession Voyages. Final viewership numbers are still being tallied.
“Although the industry is still reeling from last week’s news of sun cancellations, it was heartening to see that we, as a community, are still united as we find ways to move forward together,” says Devin Kinasz, Travelweek Publisher. “Though it’s an incredibly difficult time for us all, especially in light of the recent news, all our keynote speakers gave viewers new reasons to remain hopeful for 2021 and beyond. We heard from many agents yesterday who said they learned a lot and felt inspired to face the new challenges head on.”
Agents had the chance to chat online and share comments during yesterday’s broadcast. Sheryll Donovan, for example, encouraged others to stay hopeful: “Our industry will rebound, we are just in the waiting period, which is very uncomfortable for us. Hang in there! Stay strong.”
Jodie Simpson, after watching a presentation from Europe’s top destinations, said, “Looking forward to the additional overnight train itineraries coming to Europe,” while Anita M. added, “These presentations are fantastic, we learn so much in one sitting!”
And many other agents shared their positive impression of the conference overall. Debbie Poisson said, “This is a great format, one of the best I’ve attended,” while Paul Morrissette added, “Thank you for the facts today, it will be very useful in our planning promotion.”
For agents who were unable to watch live yesterday, a video recording will be made available on travelweek.ca later today. Below are also some key takeaways from keynote speakers:
The hot topic during yesterday’s conference was, of course, the recent mass suspension of all winter sun flights with Canada’s four major airlines – Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Transat. Lucie Guillemette, Air Canada’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer (pictured above with Travelweek Editor Kathryn Folliott), opened the conference by addressing the issue head on, saying: “This decision was obviously very painful as we understand that there are repercussions of these types of decisions, particularly after coming off a period of 10-12 years of successfully growing the airline and fulfilling the ambition that we have to be a global carrier.”
Noting that the suspension was requested by the federal government to limit the spread of COVID-19, and that Air Canada felt it was “proper to support the effort,” Guillemette also acknowledged how the news will negatively impact agents.
“There is no doubt that we fully understood the implications here,” she said. “I think the industry understands why we took the measures that we did from the very beginning of the COVID crisis, and particularly why we worked very hard to come up with alternatives to offer, such as vouchers with no termination date. We’re very cognizant of what would happen if we did invoke refunds. We understood what the implications were on the travel agency community but for us, it was something that was required. We had to hold this position.”
With the federal government behind the decision to cancel sun flights and introduce a new wave of travel restrictions that include hotel quarantines and mandatory PCR testing at Canada’s major airports, Bruce Poon Tip, Founder of G Adventures, thinks a different approach would better serve the travel industry and the country at large.
“Our government has not done a good job at managing this pandemic from early on and so we find ourselves in this situation,” he said. “I think the government has to do a lot more now because they’re making these dramatic decisions to shut down the industry. The idea that we’re shutting down Alberta and Manitoba and all of Canada because we’ve had issues in Ontario and Quebec is outrageous. There are issues with the Caribbean but instead of handling it with contact tracing and dealing with it on a federal level, we’re shutting down an entire industry and I just think it’s unfortunate.”
Across the board, keynote speakers shared their positive outlook for 2021 and 2022, buoyed by pent-up demand and forward bookings. Carla Brake, Director of Business Development, Globus Escorted Tours, said that based on what the company has on the books right now, fall is looking strong, with clients booked for Europe as well as domestic trips.
“In looking at 2021, we anticipate it will be late in the summer and into the fall that travel will pick up,” she said. “Once we see more progress with the vaccine rollout, we’ll see more people looking to travel in 2021 for sure.”
Pam Hoffee, Managing Director, Canada for Avalon Waterways, said “there’s absolutely still life in 2021”, with most guests looking into the late summer and fall. Hoffee also shared the exciting news that Avalon’s Christmas Markets cruises are nearly sold out, and 2022 is looking even better.
“We opened 2022 earlier than we ever have and we were very happy to do that because we’re seeing a surge in bookings,” she said. “Compared to 2020 and 2021, which were very successful years actually, we have twice as many staterooms booked than what we had in those years, and compared to 2019 we have four times as many staterooms booked. So we’re definitely seeing people who are looking ahead to 2022 because there’s just a little bit more comfort in waiting a little bit longer for some travellers.”
In ocean cruising, Derek Lloyd, VP, Agency Sales for Norwegian Cruise Line, is excited about the huge interest he’s seeing for bucket-list destinations.
“The destinations that are doing well are our Antarctica cruises, our northern European cruises that touch on Iceland and Greenland, some of our longer Mediterranean, and our Dubai to Cape Town,” said Lloyd.
When asked what advice he would give to agents trying to sell in 2020, with suspension of operations continually being extended, Lloyd suggested planning further ahead.
“Focus on the further out stuff for now because it’s one of those things where normally you’ve got greater confidence the closer you are, but right now we’ve got greater confidence the further out. So I am fully confident about 2022 and 2023.”
Raina Williams, Regional Manager, Canada, Expedia Group Media Solutions, shared promising statistics that will give Canadian travel agents some much needed hope in 2021. In a research study conducted by Expedia Group Media Solutions in October that surveyed 11,000 travellers across 11 countries, including Canada, more than half of leisure travellers said they feel comfortable knowing that vaccines are already in circulation. As such, 60% of Canadian respondents said they would be open to travel in July through September this year.
Williams also noted that in terms of traveller sentiment towards modes of transportation, Air has the biggest upside and bounceback, “which is really great to see as it’s indicated regained confidence in air travel,” while Cruise’s post-pandemic sentiments nearly match its pre-pandemic levels, showing that cruisers are looking forward to getting back to sea.
Pascal Prinz, Europe Travel Commission (ETC) Chair, Canada Chapter & Director, Canada of Switzerland Tourism, also remains hopeful for Europe in 2021, despite the fact that Canadians in general are currently not permitted to enter. Summer and fall, however, are what he’s focusing on, and he’s encouraged by ETC’s latest data that shows Europe will be, and is, in high demand and that Canadians are wanting to travel again.
“Young adventure travellers under 30, the early adapters, want to see adventure, nature, the ‘wow’ effect, while the affluent traveller with an annual income of over $200,000 want history, culinary and once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” he said. “Then we see boomers who have the time and money to travel who want to experience their third or fourth spring in their lives, and I’m absolutely convinced that they’ll have a wonderful time in Europe once the time is right.
“I am very optimistic for the future of travel and I want to emphasize that Europe is fully committed to Canada and the Canadian travel trade.” Prinz also encouraged agents to refer to the Reopen Europe website for the latest entry rules and requirements: https://reopen.europa.eu/en/map/CHE/7001
Also showing commitment to the trade was Judith Coates, Founder of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), who shared the group’s mission to meet with all Members of Parliament to address the unique concerns of the approximate 12,000 independent travel advisors in Canada. Of the 235 MPs in Canada, the group has already met with 160 of them via 30-minute Zoom calls. Approximately nine of these MPs have taken the group’s concerns, which include commission recalls, to the House of Commons.
“It’s important that we let ourselves become part of something bigger and that’s what we’re always encouraging our advisors who are in our group to do – something that helps the entire travel industry, not just travel advisors and independent travel advisors,” said Coates. “The travel shutdown can be viewed as a time of doom and gloom but we can also view it as an opportunity for growth, especially for those of us who are small business owners, as a challenge to make something better of our business and a chance to plan for the future and plan new goals. I realize it’s not easy but if we can do that, I think the travel advisors who do are the ones who’ll not only survive but thrive.”
To read full coverage from yesterday’s ‘Future of Travel: A Brand New Year’ virtual conference, check out the Feb. 11 issue of Travelweek.